Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 24, 2017

Contact: Marc Fink, (218) 464-0539, 

Court Sends Massive Nevada Groundwater Pipeline Project Back to Feds

Federal Judge Requires Additional Environmental Analysis From BLM

LAS VEGAS— A federal court judge today found that the Bureau of Land Management failed to show how it would compensate for significant losses to wetlands and wildlife habitat caused by the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s massive groundwater pipeline development project.

The court ruled that the BLM violated federal environmental laws by failing to demonstrate how it would compensate for the destruction of thousands of acres of wetlands and sensitive habitat in eastern Nevada.

“This is a win for wildlife and fragile habitat across eastern Nevada,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center. “The federal government has to go back to the drawing board and try to come up with some plan to compensate for the massive environmental damage that would be caused by draining these ancient aquifers.”

The court sent the groundwater development project back to the BLM to address the deficiencies with its analysis.

“This ruling raises serious questions about whether the agency can really address the severe impacts of this enormous water grab, which would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and important habitat for many sensitive wildlife species,” Fink said.

The $15.5 billion project would siphon more than 7.8 billion gallons of precious groundwater each year from public lands in the eastern Nevada desert, pumping it more than 250 miles south to metropolitan Las Vegas.

The groundwater development project would dry up and significantly harm more than 200 square miles of habitat for sage grouse, mule deer, elk and pronghorn, including portions of the Pahranagat, Moapa Valley and Desert national wildlife refuges as well as Great Basin National Park and Basin and Range National Monument. More than 5,500 acres of meadows, 200 springs and 33 miles of trout streams would be harmed as water tables across the region would be lowered up to 200 feet.

“Some of Nevada’s rarest species rely on wetlands and springs that would be devastated by this project,” added Fink. “The answer to Las Vegas’ long-term water needs is not to suck these eastern desert valleys dry. That could drive species to extinction by pumping an unsustainable amount of ancient groundwater through a massive pipeline.”

In 2013 the BLM granted a right-of-way for the 250-mile pipeline to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). The Center challenged the BLM’s analysis for the project, and the case was later consolidated with a challenge brought by a broad coalition, including White Pine County and affected Indian tribes.

In a related case in state court, the Seventh Judicial District Court of Nevada issued a decision — sought by the Center and allies in the Great Basin Water Network — that stripped the SNWA of 83,988 acre-feet per year of groundwater for the pipeline project due to severe deficiencies in its analysis.

The judge characterized it as "likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history.” These water rights are back before the Nevada state engineer, with hearings scheduled for late September.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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